Eye of the Tiger? Florida gets its ribs broken in ugly bout with Hurricane Idalia

by | Sep 3, 2023

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, we published an analysis of Florida’s property insurance market and concluded that insurers, elected officials and property owners alike were basically at Mother Nature’s mercy for the remaining months of the 2023 Hurricane Season. Mere hours after we published, Hurricane Idalia entered the ring, balled up her fist, and came straight for us, pummeling the Sunshine State with a flurry of punches.

Like Rocky Balboa, we dodged and weaved, gloves held high, ready to absorb the jabs or hooks Idalia had in store. We managed to avoid a knockout punch, and we went the distance. Sure, we’d suffered a swollen black eye and some cracked ribs, but we’re still on our feet. Like Rocky in his first bout with Apollo Creed, we weren’t knocked out, but we sure took our licks. And despite claims that we got away with one, we sure didn’t “win.” The smaller towns of Perry and Steinhatchee can attest to that. They got pounded, and their economic livelihoods are, at least temporarily, on the ropes. It’s a somber reminder that not every punch knocks a fighter out, but every blow does damage. Without proper recovery time, any future fight might be the last.

And that’s the problem. With three months left in the hurricane season, we’re not done dancing in the ring. In Rocky III, the hot-headed and formidable Clubber Lang waited for his turn after watching Rocky get softened by lesser fighters. How many more Clubber Langs, and for that matter, Ivan Dragos, are lurking out there, just waiting for a shot?  For the next 90 days, there will be storms lining up in the Atlantic like heavyweight challengers, all vying for a shot to knock out the Sunshine State.

Meanwhile, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is our Mickey, yelling from the corner that we’ve got a $531 billion glass jaw. That’s the financial exposure Citizens is carrying – backed by Florida taxpayers. One more solid punch and Florida’s knees could buckle and come crashing down.

Still, if there’s one thing the Rocky saga teaches us, it’s the power of a training montage. You know what I’m talking about: emotional, fast-paced music, quick cuts of Rocky punching slabs of beef in a freezer, or doing shirtless, inverted sit-ups in a barn while his trainers drop a medicine ball on his abdomen. All of that designed to toughen him up for the next fight.

Florida needs another training montage, sooner rather than later. The upcoming 2024 legislative session (or something even earlier) should be used to toughen up the state, and would help build on some of the significant strides made earlier this year.

Talk is already circulating about a concept called FIRRM (Florida Insurance Rate Reduction Mechanism), which is a way to stabilize the reinsurance market to make it more affordable for insurers. Think of reinsurance as a workout for a fighter’s legs, keeping them strong and able to stand even after taking a nasty shot (or two) to the head or body. Affordable reinsurance helps property insurers stay on their feet after a storm. That, in turn, makes the Florida market more attractive, which could help slow the rise in premiums and introduce competition into the market.

But we can’t forget Citizens Insurance, our looming cut above the eye, a wound that is always threatening to end the fight prematurely. The very center of Citizens’ “glass jaw” is located in South Florida, primarily in Palm Beach and the surrounding communities. A hard hurricane punch there and Florida is in deep, deep trouble. Policymakers need to address that vulnerability because it’s only a matter of time before another major storm comes barreling in. Whether it’s a special task force or specific legislation aimed at getting away from the state’s overdependence on Citizens as a backup, something must be done. Fight doctors say the Citizens Insurance prognosis could be a career-ender for Florida’s otherwise strong economy. But at the moment, the only way forward for the Sunshine State is to find a way to stay on our feet through the 2023 hurricane season and get more property insurers into the ring to help lighten the load for Citizens.

If the 2023 Hurricane Season is a Rocky film, then the movie isn’t over yet. The fight with Idalia was only the first act, and tension is building for the big climactic fight. Unlike the oft-repeated claims that we “dodged a bullet” last week, the reality is that we got beaten up and absorbed billions in damage from the fight with Idalia. Sure, we’re still standing, but we’re hurting, bad, and the fight doctors are concerned. Now, Hurricane Idalia is in the rearview mirror, but we’ve still got a never-ending stream of other as-yet-unnamed hurricanes vying to get on the fight card with us. All we can do is pray none of them are Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago.

Here’s hoping this year’s “movie” is a box-office flop with a really boring ending. But no matter what happens, in the closing scene, we’ll hear Mickey’s gravelly voice in our ear, telling us that this isn’t just about surviving one fight; it’s about going the distance in a career of bouts. We might survive the 2023 fight season. But 2024 is just around the corner. And in the words of the Italian Stallion himself, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

No matter what else comes our way this hurricane season, we still have a lot of work to do to get ready for the next hurricane season. And the one after that. And the one after that…


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